In the 1800s, American industry grew rapidly. It was a time of new inventions, growing cities and railroads. However, it was also a time of economic inequality. People were poor and worked long hours in dangerous jobs. In addition, women and children were often forced to work in factories. This was a time that many viewed as corrupt. Mark Twain called it the Gilded Age.
A growing number of Americans moved from farms to urban areas where they worked in factories. This created a demand for workers. People were willing to work 10-hour shifts, six days a week for wages that barely covered rent. They lived in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Photographer Jacob Riis documented the lives of the working class in his book titled How the Other Half Lives.
The industrial workforce was a mixture of African Americans and immigrants. Those who did not come from a rich family were considered to be inferior. In a society where industrial capitalism was relatively new, many people embraced a vision of masculinity that was tied to the ideals of nationalism and imperialism. The image of a virile, muscular American man was associated with strength and power and promoted by advocates of Western civilization.
In the 1880s, Congress passed two important pieces of legislation that impacted big business. The Interstate Commerce Act and the Sherman Anti-Trust Act both helped to limit the influence of monopolies. Inventions such as the telegraph and the typewriter helped to create new jobs in offices. The telegraph allowed businesses to communicate with one another faster. The typewriter made it possible for women to work in the office and make a living.